HL Deb 19 May 2004 vol 661 cc765-7

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to ensure that funding for school sixth forms matches that for further education colleges.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, the Government have set out their investment plans for 2003–04 to 2005–06, which should enable the Learning and Skills Council to increase funding for further education significantly. For the academic year 2003–04, core funding rates per qualification increased by 3 per cent for school sixth forms and by 4.5 per cent for further education colleges, on a broadly comparable basis. Our expenditure plans to 2006 should see that trend continue.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that for reasons of differences in accounting conventions, the seeming difference between the money going to school sixth forms and to colleges is not what it appears? The LSC itself confirms that the 10 per cent funding gap between the two remains and will continue. Given the expansion in numbers in further education colleges and sixth-form colleges expected as a result of the rolling out of educational maintenance allowances next year, can she assure us that colleges will have the resources that they need to fund the increased demand that will be made on them during that period?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely correct: the funding gap is approximately 10 per cent. We see that being closed; progress is being made; we anticipate that that will continue and the resources are available in the LSC budget.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, next year, the Government will be spending £5 billion on school buildings, but only £400 million on college buildings. Can the Minister give an assurance that there will be adequate facilities and equipment to meet the needs of the extra students arriving in colleges? Will she confirm that such colleges are especially beneficial environments for many children in care and leaving care, because of their greater vocational bias?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I can confirm that £400 million is indeed being provided—an increase from £231 million in 2002. Part of the building schools for the future programme is to enable us to work closely on the strategy for 14 to 19 year-olds between colleges and schools to enable us to develop appropriate resources. That includes developing the skills of looked-after young people.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, given the recent report that showed that about 3,500 children or youngsters from schools were not getting places at our top universities because they were not applying for them, should not the Government be focusing their attention more on what is happening in sixth-form colleges and schools, rather than attacking the universities?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, that is an interesting question, although, if I may say so politely, slightly tangential to the original Question. I can tell the noble Lord that, as we debated during discussion of the Higher Education Bill, it is not an "either/or" but a "both/and". It is critical that we support our children and young people in whatever educational setting, allowing them to use their qualifications, skills and abilities to get as far as they possibly can and to have the best life that they possibly can.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, can the Minister reassure me that the funding gap—especially in salaries—between teachers in sixth-form colleges as opposed to further education colleges will be addressed sooner rather than later? I welcome the extra money that she said that the Learning and Skills Council will receive, but she will know that it is an increasing problem for FE colleges to keep the staff that they need for their A-level courses. I declare an interest as a governor at such a college.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. The figures for additional resources that I gave of 3 per cent and 4.5 per cent take account of money being made available to ensure pay and pension funding.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, what is the comparable per capita funding for sixth-form college students and further education students? I am bound to say that my impression is that sixth-form colleges do rather better on per capita terms.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I forgot to say happy birthday to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock; I gather that it is her birthday today.

The figures that I have for the published base rate funding for AS/A2-level provision for 2002–03 are £663 per student in the FE college sector and £734 per student in schools, which, as I said, is approximately a 10 per cent gap. So the noble Lord is absolutely right about the gap.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that last year, the college sector increased enrolment by 7 per cent, compared to 2 per cent in the school sector, and that some 50 colleges that increased their numbers partly in pursuit of government incentives—there was a desire to do so—are still waiting for the extra payments for the students they took on?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I was not aware of that; but I will of course ensure that my honourable friend the Minister responsible is made aware of that.

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